Chapter 3: Natasha
I woke up today in a grassy field. A few feet away from me, the Trapper-Spider lay, and beyond him the Wordsmith and the Mute Musician. Next to me was Katie, and I took care not to wake her as I stood up. Birds chirped off in the distance, and a gentle breeze danced over the tall grass. The rays of the sun were almost tangible, but not harsh, they simply washed over me in waves, slowly easing me into a state of contentment. I sat for a while, enjoying the moment, but eventually the Trapper-Spider awoke and demanded I focus my attention on him.
"Katie seems to have grown attached to you," he said, I shrugged.
"She's lost, alone, without any parents. She needs someone to latch on to."
"I thought she was attracted to your stellar personality," the Trapper-Spider snarked. I glared at him, and he laughed. "Hey, it's getting a bit chilly, isn't it?" he asked, and we both looked to the sky. Behind me, a torrent of gray clouds was rolling forward, and it had indeed grown frigid.
"I blame you," I said, and stood up, angry that he had ruined my morning paradise.
"What's up? They sky was spotless a few seconds ago."
"Ignore it, it craves you attention, if you pay it no attention it will starve," I said, and began walking away. Rain started flickering down, first in a small quantity, but it rapidly reached monsoon levels. The liquid battery caused Katie to wake suddenly (along with the Wordsmith and the Mute Musician). I went over to her, and wrapped her in my jacket.
"What's going on?" she asked, tired, and a bit frightened.
"Nothing, just a rainstorm."
"I was having a good dream," moaned the Wordsmith.
"Doesn't look like this is going to let up any time soon," said the Trapper-Spider, "We should find some shelter."
"No time like the present, right?" signed the Mute Musician. And so we began to walk. We discovered rather rapidly that we were in an ocean of nothing, and as the hours drew on our hope of finding a shelter waned. Rain turned slowly to snow, almost imperceptibly. At first this was nice, a temporary release from the projectile droplets, however the snow proved itself to be a much worse antagonist than the rain ever was. I estimate the snowfall peaked at two feet, and we were trudging through it. Katie quickly grew exhausted, and insisted I carry her, making things all that more difficult for me. Just as I was about to break down, we reached the crest of a hill, and a small, silver diner came into sight. In an effort to maintain dignity, we half ran, half walked to the establishment, and within a few minutes, we were seated and waiting to be waited on.
"I want pancakes!" said Katie, she was avidly absorbing the children's menu, "No wait! Waffles!"
"Kid, we've got plenty of time to order, chill out," the Wordsmith said.
"Don't speak to her," I growled.
"Well, if you're going to be like that," he muttered, and turned away in a hollow attempt to evoke an emotional reaction from me.
"You know, I take issue with you trying to distance us all from Katie," the Mute Musician signed, "We're just as much a part of Oktober as you are, we're just as responsible for her as you are." I was about to offer my defense when the Trapper-Spider's cellphone went off. He stood up and walked away from the table to answer it. A few moments later, he came back and told me that our wonderful employer had bestowed us with a grand task. I would've snickered, if I were the type to do such things.
"That was the Oktoberist, he wishes for us to..." the Trapper-Spider glanced at our traveling companions, "Do you remember Haiti?"
"Vaguely, don't tell me he has local job for us along the same lines."
"He does," the Trapper-Spider responded, and I groaned, "And he'd like us to get started now."
"Wonderful," I said, wiping my mouth with my napkin, then placing it on my plate and getting up, "Well, as lovely as it is dining with you two, duty calls."
"You're leaving Katie with us?" Smith asked, I glanced at him, then at her.
"You wanted some time with her right?" I said, and then I was off. Out the door within seconds. The Trapper-Spider was behind me in a matter of minutes, he had lingered to pay the bill.
"So a convoy?" I asked, "Like in Haiti?"
"Yes, we're intercepting a convoy," he responded, "It's warming up a bit, isn't it?" It was, the snow on the ground was slowly melting away. The tips of the grass could be seen, like black-green hairs on a white landscape.
"We're unarmed, how are we supposed to hijack a convoy if we don't have any weapons?"
"We aren't hijacking it, we're just infiltrating one of the vehicles and stealing a bit of cargo off it."
"So it isn't like Haiti. You lied to me."
"Additionally, we're going to head for a supply drop location beforehand, and pick up some weapons there. So we won't be going in unarmed." I did not respond, deciding instead to isolate myself a bit. I hated this work, I hated the Trapper-Spider always dragging me into it. As we walked, I noticed that I had been sweltering for the last mile or so, and I took off my coat. The snow had melted away, the clouds had disappeared, and the grass had died of. Underneath my feet, I could feel the dirt and terrain turn to sand. In front of me, dunes rolled on for miles. A desert stretched to the four horizons and the sun beat down on the scorched land.
The supply drop location was in some arbitrary patch of desert. To be fair though, the desert was a recent development, probably wiped out any landmarks. A few moments ago it could have been an arbitrary patch of grass. The Trapper-Spider and I sat in silence for a few moments, battling with the heat. It was truly scalding, I could feel my skin baking off my bones, and it wasn't doing wonders for my attitude either.
There was the screech of a jet above us, and a black arrow shot across the stark, blue sky. I was unable to tell the make of the vehicle, it was moving too fast, though I was slightly annoyed by the white, vaporous scar it left behind in the otherwise perfect aerial landscape. Gently, a large, green, metallic box floated down to us, massive parachutes slowing its decent to the speed of a feather's.
"Now Natasha, I feel like I should discuss this... the cargo that we are 'liberating' is a bit... sensitive. We have to be careful with the way that we handle things, so as not to damage it, and you do have a history of..." I was only half listening. The metallic box had landed softly, and I was busy doing the combination on the built-in lock. The Oktoberist cycled a different combination for these supply drops every month, this Oktober it was six, three, six. The metallic lid clicked open, and I lowered the door on the side of the box. Weapons were packed tightly into the interior, more weapons than we would need, I quickly looked for my favorites. There was a USP, my pistol of choice, and a few M84 stun grenades, I believe you civilians would call them flashbangs. But the Oktoberist is kind, he knows what I like and provides me with them, and for this little excursion, he sent me one of my favorites. XEW-4, and experimental weapon that the Trapper-Spider and myself had made possible. It's beautiful really, sleek bar grip in the front, and top-mounted handle on the back. Brushed, stainless steel, nice organic, ergonomic curves. Glowing, light-blue ambient lights. Very futuristic, much too stylish and expensive to be used in any military, but I love that weapon like a child.
"I was afraid he'd send that," the Trapper-Spider said as I picked up the XEW-4, with more than a hint of disgust in his voice, "Look, a USP is fine, maybe an MP5K if you really feel vulnerable, but this is not something we need heavy weapons for."
"Trust me, I've done this as many times as you have after all," I said, attaching the strap to the XEW-4 and putting it on my back.
"Just, be careful alright? I don't want this botched because you got trigger-happy."
"We'll be fine, we're professionals. By this time you should know not to worry, there aren't many that are better at this type of thing than us," and I started to walk off.
"There are a few," the Trapper-Spider muttered, but without a moment's hesitation, he started following after me.
Catch and Release
The Trapper-Spider and I slowly crept over the ridge of a dune on our stomachs, and the chain of vehicles that made up the convoy came into sight. They were old fashion, large wooden vehicles, roughly thirty-six feet long, and twelve feet long. The sides were open, but a thing canvas material was stretched between four poles, creating a nice shaded interior, and protecting the cargo from the bleaching sun. These vehicles were towed by horses, about a dozen for each one, divided into three rows. Men wearing face-obscuring bandanas and toting AK-47s were walking along the sides of the vehicles.
"Which one is ours?" I asked, and the Trapper-Spider pointed to a vehicle with a large, red emblem on it's canvas roof. It should be noted that all the vehicles had emblems on their canvas, but each one was a different color and a different emblem, thus this was the only read one with this specific emblem. While I was pondering my next course of action, one of the convoy guards noticed us. As he broke away from the group to investigate, I pulled myself and the Trapper-Spider down below the dune.
"What is it?" the Trapper-Spider asked.
"Someone saw us, one of the guards. I don't think he realizes we are a threat yet, though. He probably just think we're some stray animals or something, we were far enough away that he shouldn't have been able to make out our form. But he's coming over to take a closer look," I said all this while screwing a silencer on to my USP, and swapping the clip for subsonic ammunition. I popped up above the dune for a second, the guard was about five feet from our position. He saw me, took aim, and was about to call to his friends when I landed a bullet right in his brain. I ducked back down.
"Did I mention the Oktoberist wanted this to be a no-casualty operation?"
"You didn't. It's okay, that was on me. I'll try to be less casual next time," I said, and readied the XEW-4.
"Hey, hey, hey! No, let's hold back from using that if we can, I'm serious, I don't want to draw too much attention..." the Trapper-Spider said. I wasn't listening, I had already taken aim at the vehicle in front of our mark. Gently, I squeezed the trigger. A ball of multi-colored light shot forth from the barrel of the XEW-4 with a deep, bass-like boom. The ball of light arced gently across the landscape, catching the attention of every guard within the immediate area, and it landed softly next to one of the vehicles.
And then, silence for a single second, and then total chaos. The ball exploded in a massive inferno of light, fire, sand, wood, and dirt. Debris was cast into the air, but before it landed, it all froze, and flew back inwards towards the source of the explosion, with even more force. The dust settled, but a small, compact sphere of energy was floating just above where the first ball landed. And silently, it too exploded, tossing the debris out of it's resting place and scattering it across the landscape. The body of a guard was tossed like a child's plaything into the air and landed a few feet from me with a sickening crunch.
I wasted no time enjoying the ensuing chaos, instead I grabbed the dead guard's AK-47 and began running towards are mark. The convoy slowed to a stop, and the guard were frantically looking around for their attackers. It didn't take them long to find us, but by the time they opened fire, we had already reached the mark.
"Get on and find the cargo! I'll defend you!" I yelled, and the Trapper-Spider scuttled aboard the vehicle. I took a defensive stance on one knee, took aim, and fired a small burst into the chest of an approaching guard. A few bullets kicked up the sand next to me, and I quickly whipped around and dispatched the source of them. He was firing from the hip, amateur. Frankly it was a bit insulting to be up against people like him. Two more hostiles down and I was out of ammunition. I switched to my pistol, pulled off a perfect shot on an enemy's head, and the Trapper-Spider returned.
"Alright nice job, now it's run away time!" he said. He was holding a wooden box, about two feet by two feet.
"Fantastic, I've got two clips left. You told me to travel light, I only packed one round for the XEW-4."
"Thank you, I really needed that irony right now. Flashbang?"
"Cover your eyes," I said, and tossed a flashbang behind us. I covered my eyes, and a few moments later the grenade detonated, blinding and deafening our pursuers. But more were coming, and things were looking very bad.
"They're not giving up easily," I said as a bullet whizzed by my heel, "Mind telling me what we stole?"
"Here, I'll show you," he said as we slid over a sand dune. When we reached the bottom, he opened the wooden box to reveal a small, metal cage. Inside was a majestic, blue bird unlike any I have seen before. It's feathers were lightning blue, fading to a darkish indigo, and it had a dark blue beak and feet. It was one of the larger birds I have seen, a bit cramped in it's smallish cage (remember, the box the cage was in was two feet by two feet). Rather than chirping, it emitted a low, growling sound, like oncoming thunder. And, strangest of all, two pale-blue, curved horns grew from its head.
"What is it?" I asked quietly, aware of the approaching guards in the back of my mind. A spark of electricity swelled in the eye of the bird, jumped around it's body, and discharged into the metal of the cage. I jumped back.
"It's a Thunderbird," the Trapper-Spider said, "You know, like the old Indian myth?" He reached for the cage, and undid the latch. Another burst of electricity came from the eyes of the bird, this one flew against the cage and blew open the door, and the bird cautiously poked its head out of its prison. Then it proudly lifted its head, strutted out, and spread it's majestic, azure wings. It flapped, and as it did, it made a sound like thunder that boomed across the land. In the sky, clouds were gathering, and the guard by now were gathering at the edge of the dune, but had temporarily forgotten their duty at the sight of the bird. Another flap, another, and another. The bird took off, and rapidly gained altitude, flipping and circling in the air, joyously celebrating its freedom. Then it remembered it's previous captors, seeing them lined up on the dune, and let forth a terrifying roar, the likes of which I have never heard before. Lightning shot forth from it's eyes and disintegrated one of the guard in a flash of blue light. Another bolt, another guard turned to ash. Their ranks crumbled as they realized what was happening, and they threw down their arms and ran from the wrath of the Thunderbird. The Trapper-Spider and I, completely forgotten, were free to leave.
"Why did we let it go?" I asked as we were walking back to meet the Wordsmith and the Mute Musician, "Doesn't the Oktoberist want to hold on to the Thunderbird? It seems like the type of thing he'd love to add to his collection..."
"Catch and release, Natasha. Some things can't be caged, and some things shouldn't be."
rekroW eht dna gniK ehT
".snis era snoitca ruoY ?snoitca ruoy tuB" ,ytic latipac eht ot gnirutseg ,dias rekroW eht ",sdrow tsuj erew sdrow s'gnik sihT"
.gniK eht ot denrut eh ,yllanif neht ,ees dluoc eye yeht sa raf sa dehcaer taht dnal tnrub eht ta dna ,ytic eht fo sllaw gnilbmurc eht ta dekool eH .nerdlihc eht dna ,teerts eht ni namow eht fo sesproc eht ta dekool rekroW ehT .yawa dekool neht ,gniK eht ta yldetcejed decnalg rekroW ehT "!elpoep eseht ,seitic eseht ,dnal siht ,enim lla si sihT !ma I taerg ylurt woh uoy wohs tsum snoitca ym ,lleW !'rettam taht snoitca s'ti' ,em dlot ecno uoy 'sdrow tsuj era sdroW' !detarebil evah ew lla ,dereuqnoc evah ew lla ta kooL !?suoirolg ton siht sI" ,mih ot dellac gniK eht "!rekroW em lleT"
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".rettam taht snoitca s'tI .sdrow tsuj era sdroW"
.deggurhs tsuj rekroW eht ,siht lla oT "!devil reve sah taht htimskcalb dna ,tsitra ,rekrow elbirret tsom eht er'uoy kniht I !lufwa er'uoy kniht I" ,lortnoc fo tuo repmet sih ,gnimuf saw gniK eht won yb "?kniht I tahw wonk uoY !efil ruoy ni krow ruoy tuoba drow evitagen a draeh reven ev'uoy ,yas ot uoy rof ysaE" ,deffocs gniK eht "!'sdrow tsuj era sdroW'"
".uoy ot rettam meht tel ton dluohs uoY .sdrow tsuj era sdroW" ,ylsuovren dias rekroW eht "...yam I fi ,lleW"
.detseretnisid dna derob ,dias gniK eht ",eceip ruoy yas uoy tel llahs I ,enif ,eniF"
.yllanosrep mih rof deksa gniK eht taht hcus saw lliks sih dna ,dnal eht lla ni stsitra tsetaerg eht fo eno saw rekroW ehT .eltsac s'gniK eht ni eutats a riaper ot gniK eht yb ni dellac neeb dah taht rekroW a dias ",kaeps ot tnemom a em evig ,ris uoy geb I"
"!kaew ton ma I wonk llahs lavir ym dna ,raw ot gniog era eW !seimra ym eraperP" ,ylsuoiruf dias gniK eht "!siht etarelot ton lliw I"
.mih fo kcotsgnihgual a gnikam yldetaeper neeb dah dna ,kaew mih dellac dah gnik lavir a taht mih dehcaer drow yad enO .mih dekcom dah yeht taht romur a sa hcum os draeh eh fi dnuorg eht ot seitic eritne nrub dluow eh taht taerg os saw repmet sih tub ,os yllufthgir dna ,modgnik sih devol eh dna ,flesmih devol eH .oge sih ,walf lataf eno dah eh ,saw eh sa elbon dna esiw dnA .gniK elbon dna esiw a saw ecno erehT